PAUL ROBESON by Virginia Hamilton
Kirkus Star


The Life and Times of a Free Black Man
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Having gone from spectacular fame to enforced oblivion in his own lifetime (his name was even stricken from sports books), Paul Robeson is now long overdue for reconsideration. This is probably the best biography that could have been written for young people at this time; certainly it is a vast improvement over Shirley Graham's life of Robeson (revised in 1971) with its fulsome prose and uncritical adulation. It's nevertheless too bad that it is necessary to go to such lengths to defend Robeson's Fifth Amendment stand and his right to have views which "coincided with" those of the American Communist Party; and though Hamilton discusses Robeson's romanticized view of the Soviet Union and admits that this stand eventually alienated him from many American blacks, her tone is rather too cautious. Otherwise Hamilton effectively captures the magic and the heroic stature of the man. It is difficult nowadays to imagine a time when a black man acting in white-authored plays (especially the musical Showboat) could have had a revolutionary impact; or to imagine the fervent reception of "Ballad For Americans"; or even to imagine why many of his statements on black solidarity should have seemed so shocking. All these -- as well as the Peekskill Concert, the Progressive campaign of '48 and Robeson's HUAC testimony -- come alive here; as well as the tragedy of a man who could achieve adulation but never acceptance. A considered, mature, dramatic evocation -- we're lucky to have it.
Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1974


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